As the year draws to a close, I want to share a tale of two special equine teachers who came to LOPE. These two stories show why 2017 was such a big year for our charitable work — and why we are asking for your continued support of the LOPE horses and the young people who help them.
Oro Rush (aka “Oro”) was a racehorse with a bad boy reputation at the track. Full of talent and athleticism, Oro had a devilish streak. He would train beautifully in the morning gallop workouts — only to misbehave on the actual race days. Oro was smart, restless and had issues with authority figures— and he quickly earned the nickname “Brat” at the racetrack.
Oro was soon donated to LOPE. We were charmed by his mischievous personality — and immediately noticed that Oro was a horse with a truly sarcastic sense of humor. He was the ultimate teenage boy in every respect. But we also saw that Oro was genuinely troubled. He had massive trust issues — and was completely committed to a coping strategy consisting of “When in doubt, fling your body into a crooked shape and go spastic.” Which also reminded us of teenagers we had known.
Although Oro was sound and athletic, no one wanted to adopt him. He was clearly born to be a jumper — his body type and inquisitive mind were perfect matches for that job. Slowly, we began to unravel Oro’s issues with authority and anxieties about moving in correct form. Oro was a perfect example of the philosophy that all horses are individuals — and must be treated that way.Oro was a perfect example of the philosophy that all horses are individuals — and must be treated that way.
In 2017, Oro began working with our teenage intern program. A quick study with an expressive face, he was wonderful at teaching groundwork techniques to the interns. He would mirror their body language perfectly — and his engaging, unique personality made the interns laugh and bond with him. Oro understood teenagers well (since he was one himself).
One of our interns began gradually introducing Oro to poles and the concept of jumping. Over the summer months, she patiently schooled Oro, one pole at a time. And Oro repaid the favor — by showing her how to work with quirky, sweet horses to bring out their talent and confidence.
The highlight of the summer was Oro’s debut in the show ring at a local schooling show. By the end of the day, Oro had won a Reserve Championship in the pole division. And while that’s not exactly the Olympics, it meant the world to Oro (and to our interns).
Oro will always be Oro (mischievous, quirky, sarcastic). But he is a horse who has taught the LOPE interns such invaluable lessons — that LOPE decided to make Oro a permanent teacher at LOPE. Oro has found his vocation — and he is fulfilling a special purpose, in a way that only Oro could do.
Flavor was the opposite of Oro in almost every respect. Bred at the prestigious Claiborne Farm, Flavor was descended from racing royalty. Flavor’s career took off with a bang. He broke his maiden at Keeneland track, with the late, great Garrett Gomez abroad. A stocky chestnut without a trace of chrome, Flavor was all class and athleticism. A good runner with an excellent work ethic, he steadily racked up wins.
Everyone loved Flavor’s gallant heart and competitive spirit. Like any older athlete, he began to slow down over time. But Flavor still liked to run — and he kept bringing home winnings, year after year.
Flavor was 11 years old — and he still was a racehorse. It was time to retire him — and he needed a home fast. But by this time, Flavor’s sports injuries had accumulated — and there weren’t any home offers coming in. Horses like Flavor are racing warriors. While most racehorses retire from the track by age 5 or 6, the racing warriors keep running (and winning) till they are much older. But most racing warriors have difficulties finding homes after the track, due to many years of athletic wear and tear.
LOPE had one spot open here for a racing warrior. LOPE heard about Flavor and thought he was a perfect candidate. When he arrived, we were impressed with his sports injury collection. He had four bowed tendons (one for each leg), two calcified fetlocks, pretty advanced hock arthritis and active tendonitis on his right hind. His body audibly “clicked” with each step (we never figured out which joint was making the noise — there were so many possible options to choose from).While most racehorses retire from the track by age 5 or 6, the racing warriors keep running (and winning) till they are much older. But most racing warriors have difficulties finding homes after the track, due to many years of athletic wear and tear.
At first, Flavor seemed suspicious about the leisurely lifestyle at LOPE. He would eye me skeptically from the pasture. It was clear he didn’t expect life to be easy for long. Like Oro, Flavor had some trust issues. He covered up his concern under a gruff, hardworking kind of guy.
But one day he approached me, sniffing my hand. His normally poker-faced expression was gone — his eyes were soft and happy. He finally realized that he really was retired from the track now. Flavor fully relaxed at LOPE then.
He became a babysitter to rehab horses here (often fussing over them like a giant mother hen, all maternal concern and gentle scolding). The LOPE interns loved his sweet nature under the stoic, all-business façade. Flavor would act indifferent when the interns approached him. But within minutes of being groomed or petted, he would melt into a happy, relaxed expression (often sighing with delight before dozing off).
Flavor’s history and sports injuries were fascinating to our teenage interns who were aspiring veterinarians. Even the intern DVMs at Austin Equine Hospital found Flavor to be a rare opportunity to study multiple types of injuries and their long-term healing potential. Within a few months, Flavor had become indispensable at LOPE as a teacher and rehab babysitter. And he joined the LOPE team as a permanent horse (just like Oro).
What Oro, Flavor and LOPE Interns Have In Common
Oro and Flavor were both horses that people overlooked. They had issues (Oro with his quirkiness, Flavor with his old injuries) that kept them from fitting into an appealing category for OTTB adopters. They had little commercial value in the horse market — and few prospective horse owners want to put time and effort into horses like that. Oro and Flavor both had trust issues. They showed that in very different ways. Flavor covered up his concern under a hard shell of being an all-business, no touchy-feely, hardworking kind of guy. Oro chose the opposite approach — he acted out like a teenage drama king and evaded work at all costs.At-risk horses like Oro and Flavor need extra support to be set up for success. They will take more time, effort, retraining and rehab than less “interesting” horses. But it is hugely rewarding to be part of that process — to help them become what they were meant to be.
But Oro and Flavor just needed time, attention and a bit of CSI sleuthing to discover their talents and help build trust again. Just like people, horses need to have a purpose or job. It can take quite awhile to help unusual horses like Oro and Flavor find that special vocation that is perfect for them. And to prepare them for that work — so that they are physically and mentally ready to take on a new career.
At-risk horses like Oro and Flavor need extra support to be set up for success. They will take more time, effort, retraining and rehab than less “interesting” horses. But it is hugely rewarding to be part of that process — to help them become what they were meant to be.
And the same is true for the LOPE interns and young students we work with.
Our teenage interns are all interested in horse industry careers (ranging from veterinary professionals, barn managers, horse trainers and colt starters). They all come from different backgrounds and face different challenges to meet their career goals. Most of all, they are young — and need structure and guidance to prepare for adulthood and independence. Building the confidence and skills of teenagers is key to their success as adults.
LOPE also works with youth from at-risk and/or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They are especially in need of extra time and care to help them find their purpose and move forward in life. Because of their early experience, they cover up their trust issues and anxiety behind facades of toughness, misbehavior or indifference — just like Oro and Flavor.
The Long Way is The Short Way
In 2017, LOPE launched a handful of new programs as experiments. We added two teenage interns, took in a racing warrior (Flavor) and designed a workshop to teach horsemanship to at-risk youth. These were small programs, designed to help deserving individuals (people and horses).
To our surprise, the demand for these programs grew rapidly. Our “two interns” program doubled, then tripled (evolving into our Starting Gate program. The workshop for at-risk youth became a full education series (LOPE’s First Step Workshop series. And LOPE’s one horse Racing Warrior Program mushroomed after Flavor arrived. As of now, all of the LOPE horses are age 7 or older (with combined total of over 450 races under their belt)!
It was amazing how these small programs snowballed so much faster than we ever planned. We realized that LOPE was offering something special — that the long-term nature of our education was what made it so valuable (and popular). But the programs were limited to just a handful of people and horses. There were always many more horses and young people wanting to join them.
LOPE has decided to significantly expand our teen, racing warrior and at-risk programs in 2018:
- We plan to create internship and workshop opportunities for twenty teens.
- LOPE wants to offer even longer rehab and retraining (six months) to extra special racing warriors — so they can become teachers and mentors (like Oro and Flavor).
- And we are committed to fully developing our training and vocational curriculum — in order to reflect best practices in the horse industry.
These new program expansions will require an annual budget of $50,000. Our goal is raise 50% of funds for the expansion by December 31. For our expansion program to launch fully, we MUST start 2018 with $25,000 toward the annual budget already raised.
Why is the timing so urgent? Because we can’t truly grow and develop these important education programs in a piecemeal, random fashion — dependent on whatever funds come in month to month. Quality education requires quality planning and execution. We have to immediately secure the key experts, teachers, horses, equipment, curriculum and students — so that more people and horses can learn the skills they so strongly need. How can we set students up for long-term success, if we can’t raise the funds to ensure that their education will be consistent, valuable and ongoing?
The window of opportunity will close especially fast for the horses and students who need our help the most. We already have a waiting list of teens, at-risk youth and racing warriors eager for help!
With your gift, you can help MANY young people and at-risk horses learn from each other — and give each of them the chance to change their lives (one horse at a time).
Supporters like you are heroes to LOPE and to the horses we help. And we need your help again — to launch this exciting expansion of our special education programs — for horses and young people.
We are honored to have the opportunity to work with the LOPE horses and learn from them. LOPE couldn’t help the horses without the generous support of our donors, sponsors, friends and fans. Thank you for caring about the future of these magnificent animals — and for being inspired by them as we are at LOPE.
The LOPE horses wish you a warm and happy holiday season!